Thursday, 13 August 2015

Three years on

It's the anniversary of Simon's death today, three years have passed now since that life changing phone call. I've been looking back at old blog posts and I'm struck by how much better I'm feeling about this date that looms over me every year. The first two anniversaries were hard, really hard. I think the first year was such a blur, so much happened that when I realised a year had passed I didn't really feel I'd properly mourned him, everything still felt so raw.
By the time of the second anniversary I was feeling more accepting, less overwhelmed by it but as the date drew near I found myself dreaming of those early days again, and then with Robin Williams' death it felt like the newly formed scab had been picked off and I was reminded that although I'd come a long way, the feeling of loss was still just there, under the surface.
So it's now three years and I won't pretend there wasn't a feeling of trepidation as the date drew near but despite my fears this year it's different. I'm beginning to hope that scab has finally healed. I still have a scar of course, no death occurs without leaving some mark on those left behind and suicide is such a violent way to lose someone, they are ripped from your existence and and for a while you feel broken.  I wondered about writing a post today, the first year I still needed the outlet, last year, in response to Robin Williams' death I wrote about suicide not being selfish.  Did I need to write today? I'm not feeling fragile, I don't need the healing balm of writing today. And then I realised that is why I need to write this post today. It's for me but also for anybody reading it who is also mourning the death of a loved one through suicide. They call us suicide survivors as we somehow manage to keep on going after hearing the news nobody should ever hear, news that changes us irreparably.  I am a survivor but more than that I'm living, not just getting through each day, not waking every morning with that heavy feeling of loss deep in the pit of my abdomen. I am happy. Not always, sometimes I'm sad or angry or worried but these feelings aren't related to Simon any more. For a long time it was as if my grief was tangled up with who I am, even as those intense first days, weeks and months passed, even when I wrote about feeling better, I still felt that his suicide cast a shadow deep into my soul.
I'm finally starting to feel freer, there will always be a Simon sized hole in my life but it's not what defines me.
If you are grieving somebody who has died by suicide then my thoughts are with you, be gentle to yourself and give yourself time, all the time you need. If you're concerned that somebody you know may be feeling suicidal then talk to them, and more importantly listen to them and believe them. There is some useful advice here.
It's the third anniversary of my brother's suicide and for the first year since it happened I haven't cried, today there will be more smiles than tears.

Monday, 13 April 2015

"Boys don't cry" is killing our men

I've just finished watching tonight's Panorama on BBC1 in which Simon Jack (whose father died by suicide) looked at male suicide in the UK, the biggest killer of men under 50.
Naturally it's a topic that resonates deeply with me, Simon was in many ways a 'typical' male suicide. He was 37, had drug problems, was living alone after the end of a long term relationship, was in debt and had always found it hard to open up emotionally. Since his death I've come to firmly believe that openly talking about depression and suicide is so important, it's not a magic wand of course, not when mental health services are so patchy in this country, but when the rates between male and female suicides are so disparate it points to the damage done to men who learn from a young age that "boys don't cry".
As a relative of somebody who killed himself I do however, sometimes pause before posting something on social media. I'm acutely aware that I don't want to make somebody suicidal feel more guilty. After a high profile suicide there are always the inevitable "selfish" and "not thinking about their family" comments. I beg to differ of course, without presuming to know what's going through somebody's head when they decide to kill themselves I'm willing to bet they're more likely to believe they are a burden and their family and friends will be better off without them than they're planning their death without a second thought to their loved ones. It does concern me therefore that when I talk about my devastating loss it may be construed the wrong way, that I'm trying to shame people into staying alive. However, what I'm hoping to convey is that I don't believe that anybody bereaved by suicide ever feels a burden has been lifted, no matter what happened previously and whatever problems led them to that final decision. To anybody considering suicide I would say this, despite all of our ignorant and thoughtless comments, we would always choose to continue to live with you than without you. This isn't to make you feel guilty, feeling suicidal shouldn't be seen as a shameful act, please think of it as releasing you from your burden of worrying about us. Talk to us, talk to professionals, talk to someone.  It can get better and we can wait with you for as long as you need. Depression is not weakness, feeling suicidal is not wallowing. As a society we need to stop the man up comments and ignore those who have decided - without any medical knowledge or experience - that depression is a first world problem. Remember the old HIV advert in the 1980s with the iceberg and "Don't die of ignorance" slogan? I think our attitude to depression, particularly in men is a bit like that. The iceberg of shame and stigma looms there menacingly, dark and cold. It's time now to take a pickaxe to that ice, people shouldn't be dying because they don't feel they can talk. Boys being taught that they shouldn't show their emotions, they shouldn't cry, is ultimately killing our men.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A little dip

I haven't updated this blog for a while, life goes on and learning to live with the loss of Simon I think means gradually not feeling the need to write both about him as a person and about how I'm dealing with his death. When I first started the blog I didn't have any sort of a plan, just a desperate need for some sort of pressure valve, a way to free my head from the thoughts that overwhelmed me, day and night.
So those first few posts were almost a necessity, in the months following his suicide I remember needing to tap my fingers against my thumb to try to distract myself, to stem the tears when they threatened to fall again. Crying is cathartic at times but I was washed out, scared to walk into town in case they started to fall in front of strangers. I was fortunate to receive so many messages of love and support, I wasn't alone yet so often felt it as I struggled to verbalise my thoughts - the words so often stuck by the lump in my throat. Eventually I realised I needed an outlet and so began to write, of the grief, the confusion, the fear, the anger... And it helped, slowly my head felt less full, the intensity of those early months of grief passed. No doubt that would still have happened naturally as time went on but I believe writing helped ease that time a little.
I needed to write about Simon too, to remember the person he was. For a while I was consumed by the thought that he would be forgotten, there is no grave to mark that he was once here as we scattered his ashes. I've reconciled myself with that now, those of us who knew and loved him won't forget him ever and a few words on a headstone won't tell people in the future of the kind, funny, infuriating, opinionated and flawed man we knew and he doesn't need to be remembered by history. More recently I've written posts I hope help other people, both those feeling depressed and suicidal and those bereaved by suicide. This isn't entirely altruistic, I need to feel something good can come from losing Simon, that his death wasn't the end of our relationship but a catalyst for me to achieve something positive in his memory.
Recently though I've not been able to write, I've thought about it but the words wouldn't come. For a few weeks I found myself waking every morning with a deep sadness, not necessarily thinking of Simon, but  feeling that a heavy weight was on my chest. It wasn't depression, I'm not going to suggest my few weeks in a dip comes anywhere near what people who suffer depression for weeks, months and years go through. It was however, a reminder that nobody should feel they're immune to depression, my low mood passed but I'm not naive or vain enough to believe that it won't happen again or that it won't develop into something more. It wasn't an inner strength that lifted me, I was just fortunate that it was nothing more than a short period of the blues. What I have been struck by though is my reluctance to tell anybody, I often write of how depression isn't shameful, and the language used when discussing the illness isn't helpful - nobody admits to cancer or confesses they've had a migraine after all - and yet I struggled to try talk about even my brief low. Partly I think that's because I didn't (still don't) want to compare what I felt to true depression but also because it felt frightening to say out loud that I was struggling a bit.
The crushing feeling has gone now, I'm back to normal (whatever that means!) but perhaps this has been a reminder that I still need this outlet now and again. For all those of you who have ever read my jumbled thoughts, thank you, I genuinely appreciate the time you take to read and comment on my posts.